‘The behaviour. This contention regards when such behaviour

‘The common law recognises a distinction between direct
intent and oblique intent.’


Through the apprehension of common law, there is an
appreciation of a distinction between direct and oblique intent. The concept of
Intention rises when we
consider the criminal liability of an individual; in which criminal liability
is the responsibility that is given for any illegal behaviour. This contention regards when such behaviour causes harm or damage to someone
or something. When considering such liability, there should be a consideration
of both the actus Reus and the mens rea. The actus Reus is a Latin phrase that
can be defined literally as the ‘guilty act’. However, the actus Reus is more
aptly defined as ‘the forbidden conduct’.1
The second element of criminal liability is known as the mens rea, this is
defined as the ‘guilty mind’. Intention is regarded to be the most serious
standard of mens rea2  followed by recklessness, gross negligence,
negligence and strict liability. In English law, Section 8 of Criminal Justice
Act 1967 provides for the frame in which the ‘mens rea’ is assessed. The act
regards that there is a requirement of proof of criminal intent. A court or
jury, when determining whether a person has committed an offence, (a) shall not
be bound in law to infer that he intended or foresaw a result of his actions by
reason only of its being a natural and probable consequence of those actions;
but (b) shall decide whether he did intend or foresee that result by reference
to all the evidence, drawing such inferences from the evidence as appear proper
in the circumstances.3
Intention can be satisfied through two different definitions: direct intention
and oblique intention. Although direct and oblique intention are simply
alternative definitions of the mens rea term intention, what is the distinction
between them?

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When considering the definition of intent, a narrow
definition of intention, known as direct intent, can be adopted. Direct
intention covers the typical situation where the consequences of a person’s
actions reflect what was desired when such course of action was carried out. There
are several cases that convey a demonstration of direct intent in its regard to
common law, such as; R v Steane, Chandler v DPP, R v Mohan. The leading case
that defines direct intention is Moloney.4
In the case of Moloney, the facts were that D had shot his stepfather whilst
playing a drunken contest that involved the quick-drawing of loaded shotguns. In
the case of R v Steane5,
the appellant, had been convicted of an offence under the Defence Regulations. He
had been accused of carrying out acts that likely to assist the enemy with
intent to assist the enemy. However, the appellant argued that he had no
intention of assisting the enemy saying the actions carried out were purely
done for the motivation and desire preventing his wife and children from being
sent to a German concentration camp. The court held that there was clearly no intent
to assist the enemy here; the appellant felt forced and threatened into carrying
out such actions. Ultimately, the crime had not been proven, thus the defendant
was acquitted.

The seconds definition is considered when the scope of
intent is widened is known as oblique or indirect intent. Oblique intent regards
a situation where the consequence is foreseen by the defendant and considered as
virtually certain although it is not desired. However, the defendant goes ahead
with carrying out such act anyway. Thus, when considering oblique intent, it is
important to understand ‘virtual certainty’. This concept regards the case of
in which D poured paraffin through the letterbox of X’s house, proceeding to
set the house alight killing a child due to causing a house fire. Lord Lane CJ
quashed the original conviction and clarified that “the jury should be
directed that they are not entitled to infer the necessary intention, unless
they feel sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty because
of the defendant’s actions and that the defendant appreciated that such was the
case.” The current law regarding oblique intent follows the leading case of
In such case, D killed his child by throwing him against a hard surface.
However, D did not have the desire to kill the child.

Regarding the case of R v Woollin8,
the matter of intention has been discussed by common Law. Within such case, the
facts raised were that the appellant had thrown his 3-month-old baby son on to
a hard surface. This ultimately led to the infant suffering a fractured skull leading
to fatality. The appellant had been charged with murder of the infant, although
he did not desire to kill the child. As the appellant was charged with murder,
it was required that he had the mens rea of intention to kill or cause serious
bodily harm. The crown court held that the appellant was guilty of murder, this
conviction was upheld on appeal in the Court of Appeal. However, when the case
was taken to The House of Lords, it was held that the murder conviction was to
be substituted with manslaughter conviction. This holding was because there had
been a material misdirection which expanded the mens rea of murder and
therefore a murder conviction would be insecure. In Woollin, the House of Lords
attempted to clarify the law of indirect intent by holding that if a
consequence is a virtually certain result of an act and such individual foresaw
such act to create the given result; it is possible that a jury may find that
such action was to be intended, irrespective of whether it was in fact the
individuals purpose to cause such consequence. The House of Lords considered the
Nedrick guidelines, however they modified them slightly. The judge, using such
case law, directed the jury that it can be argued that the defendant had
intended the death of the victim. It could be argued this way if it was viewed that
a substantial risk of death was most likely appreciated by the defendant. Therefore,
the appropriate direction to be upheld in testing oblique intent regards when
the conviction is murder, and in the rare cases where the simple direction is
not enough, the jury should be directed that they are not entitled to infer the
necessary intention. This is unless they feel sure that death or serious bodily
harm was a virtual certainty (barring some unforeseen intervention) because of
the defendant’s actions and that the defendant appreciated that such was the

Overall, there is a clear distinction between direct intent
and oblique intent. Due to much of cases being straight forward, its often they
involve direct intent. Direct intent is where the defendant embarks on a course
of conduct to bring about a result which in fact occurs. However, it’s clear
that oblique intent is more complex than direct intent. Oblique intent exists
where the defendant embarks on a course of conduct to bring about a desired
result, knowing that the consequence of his actions will also bring about
another result. Thus, due to the simplicity of direct intent it does not require
a refined test like oblique intent.

1 Than
CD and Heaton R, Criminal law (4th edn Oxford University Press 2013)

2 Child
J, Ormerod DC and Smith JC, Smith & Hogan’s essentials of criminal law
(Oxford University Press 2015)

3 Criminal
Justice Act 1967, Chapter 80, Section 8

1985 AC 905

5 R
v Steane 1947 1 AII ER 813 Court of Criminal Appeal

Nedrick 1986 1 WLR 1025

1999 AC 82

8 R
v Woollin 1998 1 WLR

9 Lord
Lane, C.J., Nedrick 1986 1 W.L.R. 1025.


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